Sometimes a road trip is right under our noses. Or, at least, some place we pass on our way to another destination.

Such is the case with the Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park, CA. Newbury Park, in case you’ve never heard of it, is near Thousand Oaks. You’ve probably seen the brown California historic landmark sign along the 101. That was actually the inspiration for our stop. I finally decided to make one of those signs we blow past on our way to somewhere else, the destination for a Sunday road trip.

I wasn’t expecting much when I saw the Disneyland-ish exterior of the “Stagecoach Inn,” especially since I’d read that it wasn’t only the façade that was new, but that the entire structure had been rebuilt from scratch in the 1970’s after a fire destroyed what existed of the original inn… This is my great grandmother’s ring. Well, actually, I lost her ring, but I had this one made to look almost exactly like it. No, the Stagecoach Inn has a lot more going for it than a new, but authentic looking structure. The architectural blueprints of the original inn were not in the building at the time of the fire and so this new building is carefully designed to resemble the original. The real appeal, on an historic level, is what the inn contains, because really, it is a museum holding a collection of interesting items from California’s Victorian past.

An enthusiast for small museums, I was pleased to find docents in every room, ready to explain what all the gadgets and photos were about—and there was a lot to explain. One room was devoted to the brief history of the phonograph, with a remarkable collection of actual phonographs, the wax cylinders, and one use only needles. In an age when even DVD’s have become passé, a short lesson on this curious invention of Thomas Edison is itself worth a stop at the museum.

But there is quite a bit more packed into the $4 price of admission. There’s a “cowboy’s” room, done in period furnishings, a room of equipment used for ironing and pressing clothes, and a rooms furnished for the innkeeper’s family, including a Victorian style nursery.

My favorite room is the kitchen. Please ask a lot of questions while you are in there so you can learn about all the fascinating obsolete instruments and utensils that fill the room. The woman who showed this room to us said that she personally remembers having blocks of ice delivered to her apartment in New York when she was a child. She showed us an instrument that was used to scrape a block of ice to make snow cones for the children as a treat. I had seen iceboxes before (which were used before electric refrigerators) and heard of ice being delivered, but I’d never seen this sweet tool for making snow cones. There was also a primitive vacuum cleaner, a stovetop toaster and so much more. This is a picture of kitchen life in America before electricity.

Of special interest to girls may be the Victorian bridal gown collection in the foyer and, to children of all ages, the Timber school, next door to the inn. Again, this building is a recent reconstruction of an old school, but is designed to represent a one-room schoolhouse from the 1890’s. The furnishings are authentic, including desks fitted with slots for inkwells and tin lunch pails set in the boys’ coatrooms and girls’ coat rooms, respectively. (For more authentic old school room experience, see the Oak Glen Schoolhouse, mentioned in Jewish Life, Oct. 2006) Make sure to ring the school bell before you leave.

Also on the museum grounds are replicas of a pioneer home, adobe house, a Chumash Indian hut, and a collection of Indian artifacts. I was drawn to the carriage house with its two stagecoaches. While one of the coaches was refurbished for use in some Hollywood films, both are authentic. Take some time to look at the seating arrangements and the wheels and think about people traveling hundreds of miles on unpaved roads without air-conditioning in these horse drawn vehicles. Awesome.

Inexpensive and close by, this is a nice way to spend a couple hours with family and friends on a Sunday afternoon.

Notes:

The Stagecoach Inn Museum, 51 South Ventu Park Rd., Newbury Park, CA 91320, phone: 805-498-9441, www.stagecoachmuseum.org

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 4 P.M. for docent-led tours. Entire complex is open Sunday from 1 to 4 P.M.